A Little Cabin In The Woods

Had someone been squatting on a neighbor’s land?

We’ve been looking at land for a few months and we often check Google Earth for a closer look from a couple of miles above the earth. There are two parcels for sale adjacent to us and up the hill towards the mountains that we’ve been interested in.

I noticed what looked like a shack on the property in the latest satellite imagery and rolled back the timeline a couple of decades. Someone had built whatever it was after 1998 and it had a roof as late as 2016 – the last captured image date.

Was the object a shelter with someone living in it? I got permission to walk the property for a closer look and I told the real estate agent I’d check for a possible squatter.

I use the My Tracks app when I go for hikes to keep my bearings so I started to record my movement as I crossed the property line and continued up toward the mysterious – whatever it was.

I climbed up the steep hill and through some almost impenetrable thickets toward the structure until the app told me it was almost directly in front of me. I peered through the brush – and there it was.

A cabin!

I wasn’t expecting to see such a well-made and picturesque abode. It was minus a roof and a chimney but someone had taken the time to craft this little building and had been living in it.

Anticipating the possibility of surprising someone, I had made my approach noisy – like I was out hiking but it was immediately apparent the tiny house had been abandoned for some time.

No squatters.

There was debris from the once-household scattered about outside, including parts of the fireplace and chimney but I wanted to see inside first. I called my husband and told him I had found the place as I crept through the doorway and into the little space.

The sunlight shone directly into the interior and onto the floorboards which were still sturdy. Some kitchen items had been left behind but the place had been cleaned up well, before whoever it was left – aside from what was outside.

The stovepipe remained attached to the wall while the rest lay in a heap with some other rubbish near the shell. I looked out a window in the rear to see what “they” saw when they looked out. I imagined seeing snow or maybe wolves through that window on a dark night.

They’d left behind a wooden wind chime and a couple of fish shaped dishes they’d used as ashtrays; a match and some ashes were still in them. I put the little trays in my pocket; no one was coming back for them.

I picked my way to the back of the shelter and found an animal cage. For a split second I considered whether it might have been used for a human (my vivid imagination). There were a couple of saws, a cup and an empty toolbox strewn about.

My curiosity satisfied and my mission complete, I stood and looked out at the view the mystery people would have enjoyed. It was spectacular but how did they get up here? There were no roads nearby. They must have cut the logs for the cabin on the spot.

I used my Tracks app to navigate down the hill to “safety” – across our property line. I breathed a sigh of relief although I had really enjoyed the afternoon’s adventure.

I don’t know if we’ll end up buying the two parcels next to us but someone had built a house with their own skills and a few tools and lived there for some time.

I wonder who they were?

Memorable Moments

Times we won’t forget since we moved.

Here is a list of some memorable moments we’ve had since we left “civilization” over two years ago:

  • Finding a man asleep in the back of his pickup truck minutes after a bear ransacked his belongings at his open tailgate – inches from his feet.
  • Driving with a twenty-five foot trailer behind me for the first time and coming to a halt at a bridge we weren’t sure was wide enough for us.
  • Shaking a skunk out of a cage at 2:30 in the morning.
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    A passerby.
  • Watching the solar eclipse on the beach of a river at a campground.
  • Coming home from work to the first snow we’d seen in years. Three feet of it.
  • Hitting the ground after a bullet ricocheted off a tree near us and yelling “there are people down here” when our neighbors almost shot us.
  • My husband walking out the door to our RV to see a bear about thirty feet away.
  • Finding a skunk in my kitchen in the middle of the night.
  • The night our cat jumped onto the canvass of our camper-trailer, collapsing it onto my head and my half-asleep husband mumbling “are you sure that’s the cat”?
  • Bambi
  • The night we packed our trailer to leave for our new home in eastern Washington in a monsoon then having the lights on the truck go out on the freeway.
  • Getting a flat tire while pulling our trailer out of the woods and living in it for two days on the outskirts of a residential area while we had the tires replaced.
  • Letting an extremely aggressive wildcat we’d caught out of a cage.
  • My husband listening to the bays of a wolf pack while he stayed in the trailer alone one night. We found tracks outside the trailer the next day.
  • Striking water under pressure and seeing it gush out of the ground while we were digging our spring deeper one summer. We’ve been set ever since.
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  • The family from hell we camped next too while on the road who got drunk every night and fought. It ended with half the crowd screeching away in a cloud of dust and spraying rocks one morning.
  • Driving down the highway as we neared our new home with Tom Petty’s Runnin’ Down a Dream playing on the radio as the sun tipped the horizon to the east.
  • Runnin’ to a dead-end after we discovered the road to our property had been washed out and having to back the trailer into a dirt ravine to turn around.
  • Pulling up our driveway for the first time on the morning of September 18th, 2017.
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    Our latest four panels.

Outdoor Theater

The sky becomes a screen at night.

My husband loves to look at the heavens at night. He has a much better view now that we are away from the light pollution of the urban areas. The difference can be stunning.

Away from the cities, outside becomes like a darkened theater. The screen is the sky and it stretches from horizon to horizon.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve spotted strange lights, some of which have moved erratically then disappeared in the blink of an eye. Others have glided across the sky slowly only to blink out suddenly. UFOs have sometimes been linked to military bases and Fairchild AFB is near us. You never know.

Last year we spotted a very bright object in the southern part of the sky. It didn’t look “natural” so I got out my camera and recorded some video. It appeared every night for a couple of weeks before we lost interest.  Strange Bright Light Moving Across The Sky Near Colville, WA.   This year we realized it was just Venus after my husband checked a star chart.

The Milky Way is more visible in the country and my husband likes to point out the constellations and explain the origins of their names. The stars shine down on us with light that originated thousands of light years in the past and I wonder which of them might not even exist anymore.

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 A few weeks ago we spotted the perfectly lined-up Starlink satellites recently placed into orbit by SpaceX. I counted at least eight spaced equally apart as they traveled together across the sky.

Yesterday we had a Super Moon. That’s when the moon is closest to the earth and appears unusually large, especially when it’s close to the horizon. I made sure I got some shots with my camera.

During the day, we often get an airshow compliments of the pilots from the Air Force base. Once I looked up and saw what looked like a giant penis-shaped contrail in the sky. I later read that a pilot got into some trouble for that.

I say, let the flyboys and girls have a little bit of fun. They’ve earned it. 🙂

 

The Patriot

A suburban solution to a rural challenge.

I found it at a garage sale about a month ago. It cost us twenty dollars and is probably twenty years old. Its housing is made of ugly green plastic with Stars and Stripes and the word Patriot on its side.

It’s an electric chain saw. Had I known such a thing existed, I wouldn’t have squandered two years of wood-cutting.

Everyone around here uses gas-powered chainsaws to cut timber down for firewood. I won’t ever use one because they seem too dangerous. Whether or not that’s true I’ve made up my mind. My husband seems neutral. Either way, we have some wood cutting to catch up on now that we’re not afraid of removing a limb while we’re removing a limb.

We had three huge trees cut down that have been laying on our hillside for a couple of years. We hacked and sawed off all of the branches and removed the bark for firewood but we couldn’t cut the giant trunks. They were just too big.

Enter the Patriot. the patriot

It probably has half the power of a gas chainsaw but that’s what makes it so great: less probability of bouncing off a knot and wreaking havoc with the human body. I feel I can use this thing safely.

The day we acquired our new gadget, I ran a couple of extension cords down the hillside and commenced to “bucking” one of the humongous logs. To my surprise, the chainsaw works really well for being electric.

Now we can cut the giant trunks into small sections that my husband splits into firewood. All of that wood that’s been sitting around taunting us is now thinking twice.ax1

I feel accomplished. I can slingshot and I can buck lumber. I feel I have earned the Carhartt jacket I bought last week.

logs

Wild Turkey Anyone?

My husband calls them The Horde.

They are the collection of wild turkeys that cruise the area searching for food and doing whatever else turkeys do. They seem to live in loose groups and there’s no shortage of them here in eastern Washington.

We often wake up in the morning to the sounds of hungry fowl outside our windows. They surround the RV (have you seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds?) making their expectations plain – it’s breakfast time.

My husband knows his job: He roles out of bed, throws on some clothes, grabs the thirty-pound bag of food with the cup and steps outside to feed “his” flock. They chitter, pip, pop, peep and sometimes gobble loudly in unison while they skirmish over the offerings.

They nip at each other, driving away their competitors for every bit of seed. Some are scraggly, some look a little sick and it makes me sad. Nature is nature though. I throw food to the ones who look like they need it the most. The rest look pretty healthy aside from the wind-tunnel look.

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We started feeding them a couple of months ago. When we pull into our driveway they make a bee-line to our RV. Most are hens but the males are standing out this time of year.

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It’s the beginning of the mating season and the Toms are dressing up in full window display. To make themselves look most presentable to the females, they “fluff up” with an audible swish of their feathers. Their heads flush with color and somehow they manage to cause their plumage to stand upright.

They angle their tale swag from side to side, as if tuning in a radar array. They tuck their chins in and glide across the ground as if on wheels. Or they stand stock still while the hens ignore them. Somehow, despite the rejection, little hordes inevitably appear in the following weeks. We call them gobblets.
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Surviving Winter In An RV

How To Stay Warm

We currently live year round in a fifth wheel trailer. They are notoriously under-insulated for winter because they are just that: recreational vehicles designed mainly for summer camping. We have plans to build a real house but for now, staying comfortable in frigid weather requires a lot of effort.

We broke the central heater in our fifth wheel when we tried to install a propane fridge a couple of months ago (don’t ask) so we’re left with space heaters and the fireplace we installed last year to keep warm.

Earlier this month, an arctic front dipped into the northern United States from Canada. Next thing you know, it’s zero degrees and our pipes are freezing despite our anti-freezing protocol.

The area under and near the front of a fifth wheel is often referred to as “the basement”. It took me a while to figure that one out when I couldn’t find the stairs going down (ha ha). It’s the compartment where all of the water tanks, the pump, and the water pipes reside. You have to keep the vulnerable complex of Pex pipes that wind throughout from freezing. Most people add extra insulation and incorporate some sort of auxiliary heating system. The central heating ducts go into this compartment in our “home” but that’s out for now.

We put a couple of small desk-sized heater fans near the water pump and we use a heat hose to go between our 400 gallon external water tank and the trailer to keep the lines clear. Unless it’s ten degrees below. In that case, we have to remove the heat hose and bring it inside to thaw before hooking it back up. Coffee water comes from dipping the pot directly into the tank on those mornings.

We also leave the cupboard doors open between the living space and the basement to equalize the temperatures. It’s all about strategy out here. Thick dark curtains and/or shrink-wrapped plastic on windows help cut drafts.

Skirting is a standard protection used to keep wind out and stabilize the air temperature beneath a trailer. It’s a barrier running the circumference of the rig from the ground to the body. Everything from expensive kits to straw bails can be used for the purpose.

We installed a fireplace last year. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done. We used the correct components and installed it to the letter of the instructions for safety. We got a fan that is activated by the heat on top of the fireplace which blows air throughout the living space quite effectively. A bellows is mandatory for getting fires started.

We couldn’t afford a cord of wood this winter so we’ve been harvesting it from around the property. Storms have brought branches down and there are three huge trees laying on a hillside that we had to have felled in order to get an internet signal. Those have provided us with a seemingly endless supply of wood but the work: chopping, cutting, sawing the stuff to fit the fireplace – its exhausting.

We also pick up wood pallets from around town when we go down the hill. Most of them fit comfortably into the back of our SUV and they are free and plentiful.

The first thing I do every cold morning is make the fire in the fireplace and it’s the last thing I do at night. Keeping warm is so much work. I’m glad we are on our way towards spring and summer so I can complain about the heat.

A Beautiful Pain In The Ass

Winter is making up for lost time.

After missing its first cue and being upstaged by warm, wet conditions, it has rushed the stage and stolen the show. Determined to make an impression, it has commanded our attention to the tune of four feet of snow in as many days.

With the advent of the first falling flakes,there was the mad dash to move anything smallish undercover lest we not see it until spring. Electrical cords, water hoses, tools, small animals such as cats; everything in danger of disappearing for months went into the RV or shed. We learned the hard way our first winter here.

Our almost mile of easement has gratefully been plowed several times over by the neighbors with another methodically mowing the drifts with his newly purchased Sears snow blower.

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Me? I’m out there with our trusty Walmart Backbreaker Deluxe hand-powered snow shovel with an ergonomically designed handle that only allows you to throw snow to the left comfortably.

Roofs, panels; anything prone to collapse from a snow load ( which means everything), we’ve cleared off multiple times. I’ve seen enough collapsed structures around to motivate me to keep on top of this chore.

Our SUV is older and used and is a supreme mountain goat. Although every drive to town is a nail biter to me, she’s carried us steadfastly and surely every time.

Speaking of the car, a sizable branch, overloaded with the weight of snow came down off a tree right onto her windshield the other day. Could easily have cracked the glass but didn’t. The culprit was promptly dispatched into bite-sized pieces for our fireplace.

The heavy snowfall clung to the trees bringing them down everywhere in the region. It made our last drive home from town nerve wracking and kept the utility companies busy with downed lines and evergreens. Snowplowing is a thriving industry in this part of the country also.

Despite all the difficulties caused by the heavy dump, the winter storms of the past week have left a magical white wonderland behind. This place is beautiful in the winter.

As far as theatrical metaphors go, I’m keeping that stage hook close by.

Winter Lurks

I now dread the once magical time of year.

I used to love the snow.

As a kid living in western Washington, we rarely got it. When it did snow, it was cause for celebration. One of the reasons we moved was the year-round rain but after one winter here, we are cured of the love of snow.

We now live in a land of extremes between hot and cold. Fall and spring seem fleeting here. The blistering heat, wildfires, and droughts of summer quickly give way to cooler temperatures and sprinkles that seem to last a few days and fall is done.

Our first winter here was brutal as we weren’t prepared. The cold crept into our travel trailer through every tiny crack and we had to put up insulation along the walls of our canvas pullouts. I remember lying in bed one summer night while we were still on the road when I realized with horror that we might have to spend the winter in a cardboard box with cloth walls on the ends.

I was right to be anxious.

Our water pipes froze and I had to systematically hunt down drafts and cold spots and cram whatever I could find into crevices and holes to keep warm. With the water pipes frozen, I had to wash the dishes outside in ice-cold water I’d gotten from the spring.

We couldn’t drive our truck up our almost mile-long driveway because our four wheel drive was broken so we had to trek back and forth along it’s length with our groceries, gas and propane tanks.

I wrote a poem about winter that year: Cold.

Cold

I’m not looking forward to all of the work ahead of us to prepare.

I made a to-do list last week. We have to put plastic over the windows, skirt the RV, take down the tent we never used after I set it up last summer, hang all of the extension cords, and stockpile the wood.

Today we bought an ax to dispatch the trees on the hillside for firewood.

I worry a lot about winter but I remind myself that we’re better prepared than last year and I try to focus on thoughts of sledding, making snow sculptures and of course, Christmas.

Although I’m not looking forward to the cold weather, I’m looking forward to sitting by the fireplace and writing while the snow falls outside – and being able to wash my dishes inside.

Two Years Ago Today

We left western Washington; destined for our new home on the range.

The morning we neared our new home driving up Highway 395, the song Runnin’ Down A Dream played on the radio as the first hint of daylight tinted the eastern sky. We were pulling our Jayco Lite travel trailer with our 1986 Ford F-250 my husband lovingly called Bridgette.

That was two years ago today.

The space between then and now has been packed with memories a person cannot make up.

Survival trumped all else the first year while we carved out a place for ourselves among the Ponderosa Pines on the iron-rich bedrock.

We still get our water from a spring we dug and our energy from two gas generators and a solar power system. I’ll be so glad when a glass of water and a shower no longer involves moving mountains.

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We put up a huge portable shed but haven’t done much else because we haven’t had the  money. We’re still living in a fifth wheel but plan on building a small log home when money permits.

I’m not looking forward to another winter as the fall equinox approaches although my husband’s learned how to drive fairly well in the snow and we now have a fireplace to keep us warm.

We’ve learned to live with the wildlife for the most part and our garden is two years old and full of half-eaten tomatoes (deer like them) and squash. I’m growing a gigantic pumpkin that I’m proud of and we introduced morel mushroom spores to the side of our property where we hadn’t previously seen any grow so we can harvest them in the future.

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We’ve learned a lot about living off-grid and are a lot wiser but we remain humble as a precaution. Never take anything for granted and never get overconfident.

We’ve spent the past two years planting some financial seeds that are beginning to produce with big plans going forward.

Perhaps most remarkable is that we’re even starting to get along with the neighbors. That’s true progress.

 

Yard Carp, Gobblers, Cats, Skunks, One Brown Bear And One White Rabbit

“Tell Dale to make sure the door is shut because wild animals are getting into the house”.

This was my response when our son left the trailer door open on accident the last two nights and we had one feral cat and a skunk pay us a visit. We got rid of the cat door for a reason.

Learning to live with the “locals” has consisted mainly of putting up fences and keeping doors shut because we don’t necessarily want them in for dinner (unless it’s a gobbler).

My husband loves the “hordes” of turkeys that cross the property daily. The adults have a crop of youngsters that make peeping sounds and are currently cute. I wonder at what point does a turkey stop peeping and start gobbling? Is the transition from cute to ridiculous slow or overnight?


Deer are called yard carp around here and they have finally made it into our garden. The fence is almost seven feet tall but apparently not high enough. They still prefer tomatoes and squash leaves. I put a motion sensor light near the garden after passing on making the fence higher to hopefully scare them away.

We have seen a white rabbit a couple of times which we consider lucky, unlike the bear that has been hanging around the area.

A very large muscular feral cat or bobcat has been terrorizing our cats so we trapped and relocated it farther out into the hills last week. Hope it doesn’t find it’s way back Homeward Bound style.

We spend all of this time and energy keeping the animals at bay then go and bring more home. That would be our cats.